“Do you take dope?”
“Never Before Lunch”
After MGM released The Thin Man in 1934 other studios as well as MGM tried to capitalize on the popular story of a husband who works doing something that have very little to do with sleuthing and his sophisticated wife who gets involved in his cases. Fast Company was one film that MGM made to capitalize on The Thin Man.
Joel and Garda Sloane (Melvyn Douglas and Florence Rice) run an antique book store. Besides running the book store they occasionally help an insurance company locate stolen books. A man named Brockler has framed another man named Ned for stealing one of his books that Joel and Garda had located. Ned loves Brockler’s daughter Leia. Brockler told Leia and Ned that he can send Ned back to prison without a problem.
A corrupt man named Eli Bannerman (Louis Calhern) comes into Brockler’s office saying he has two first edition books that were stolen and want to sell them to him. Brockler gets nervous when finds out Joel and Garda have found the missing books.
Joel and Garda return home one night after being out when two detectives come to tell them that Brockler has been murdered. The police suspect Ned and want Joel’s help to find him. Joel says he will not help. The next day Joel goes to Bannerman’s secretary Julia Thorne (Claire Dodd) telling her he has an offer that will make a lot of money. Bannerman goes to Brockler’s officer after what Julia told him. He tries to get into Brockler’s vault but he cannot. He gets nervous when he sees Joel. He and his partner think Joel will find them out about them before the insurance company does.
Joel is able to find the books that the insurance company had asked him to find and he collects the insurance money. Now Joel wants Julia’s help to locate the books Bannerman had offered to Brockler. He knows she knows where the books are. Joel is at a restaurant with Julia. Garda finds him and hands him a threatening note that was left under their door that says to stay off the case. Joel tells Julia he wants to be on her side and play the game with her. They plan to meet again another time.
Ned comes out of hiding and finds Joel. He says he had gone to Brockler’s office the night the man was murdered but he was already dead. Leia is at the office. She has no idea that Ned is a suspect in the case. Joel goes there, he lies to Leia about seeing Ned. He tells her Ned is in South Jersey (** old Hollywood New Jersey reference!!! Love it**) looking for a Bible and that he has no idea what is going on.
Julia meets with Joel again. She tells him that she saw the apparently stolen books in a safe. He calls the police to tell them what Julia told him. He finds out they picked up Ned. Ned tells his lawyer that Joel gave him money for train (which Joel really did). The district attorney brings Joel in to ask him how he knew where the safe was and he will not say. When Joel goes home he tells Garda what happened and he makes it sound like a melodrama to get her all worried and gain her sympathy.
Bannerman goes his partner Sidney to tell him that Joel has sold the police on the idea that he (Sidney) has been spending Brockler’s money. Bannerman told this story to Sidney so he would go kill Joel. Before Sidney can get after Joel Banner takes Sidney out into the country and kills him. Eli wants to take Julia away with but she does not want to go. Julia takes Joel back to her place. Someone has vandalized her apartment. Eli was the one who did it. He took some letters and money. Joel did not know that Julia was involved with Eli until he finds a picture of the two on the floor. Julia goes back to Eli later on threatening that she will run away from him. In response to her threat he punches her. Meanwhile, Garda is not happy with Joel. She is mad that he keeps going out and does not tell her where to.
Joel was on his way to the DA’s office when out of nowhere he gets taken. Garda is upset she knows someone took Joel and they are going to kill him to keep him from going to the DA. She takes it upon herself to watch Eli’s house all day. Joel is alright. He was taken to shack outside town. He has been tied down to a chair and is under the watchful eye of a loyal gangster (Nat Pendleton). Garda had followed Eli to the shack and of course gets caught sneaking around.
Soon enough both Joel and Garda are able to cleverly escape Eli’s gangsters. Joel goes to Julia. He knows she was lying about the safe when it was open. She told him that the safe had not been opened in years
Joel eventually gets it out of Julia that she killed Brockler after she was blackmailing him.
Melvyn Douglas and Florence Rice were very good together. They were in no way Nick and Nora Charles there was no real chemistry but they worked. Melvyn Douglas was smart and quick but he lacked the smoothness of William Powell. Florence Rice was made to try too hard to be like Nora in some scenes it was a bit embarrassing. There was a scene where Garda walks in on Joel hugging Leia. I understand the film was made at MGM but seriously, come on with the copying!
Fast Company is an entertaining film. The dialogue is smart and witty and the mystery is interesting.